I've always resisted felt making–thought it wouldn't be my kind of thing, but it turns out, it is! I think it's because felt making is a slow and soothing process, that gives better results the slower you take it. I like to take my time in choosing which wool tops to buy then teasing out the strands and laying them across each other first this way, then that, until I have a multi-coloured sandwich of fluff that is ready to felt.
There is something wonderfully serendipitous about felt making too since no matter how carefully you try to predict the outcome of your colour combinations, there is nearly always a happy surprise at how things turn out. It reminds me a little of painting with watercolours, where colour runs and bleeds produce the most surprising but beautiful results.
However, while I've grown to love making felt, I'm not so keen on the items my textiles tutor has encouraged us to produce. I'm not a big fan of jewellery at the best of times (I find it just gets in the way), so huge felted brooches or bobble necklaces really don't appeal to me! But after stumbling across a picture of some old penny mats I immediately knew what to do with my felt. I did a little research and discovered that penny mats have been around for a while–at least since the American civil war. They aren't just made of felt either, scraps of wool from old blankets and clothes are equally suitable, and as the name suggests, pennies were used as templates for the felt shapes.
Unfortunately, if you want to get your hands on an original, antique mat, you'll probably need to remortgage your house, or sell your grandmother, to do so, which is pretty ironic when you consider penny mats were initially made by thrifty homeowners looking for ways to save money by recycling. So you're best off making one, but be warned, making penny mats is highly addictive! This might be because they are actually incredibly easy to make–just lots of circles and embroidery stitches. I currently have a stack of what looks pleasingly like a plate of 40+ biscuits, and I just can't seem to stop adding to them. Ah, maybe, it's their biscuity look that makes penny mats so addictive to make, one is never enough, you always want more!
Of course, some people like to complicate penny mats by adding different shapes, and creating some truly impressive designs and pictures. As wonderful as these are, I don't think that pictures in felt can really be classed as penny mats, they are far too sophisticated and lack the charming simplicity of the originals. No, for me it's all about the circle, nature's (and the biscuit's) most perfect shape!
PS: Now, I have to confess to being a bad blogger here, and issue an apology: I wanted to refer you to an excellent article on penny mat history but I forgot to bookmark the relevant blog and have lost the reply from the lady who kindly took the time to thank me for commenting on her blog!
PPS: I'd like to be a good blogger now, and refer you to Sara's Texture Crafts for one of the best colour selections of wool tops I've found in the UK.